Darlington talks racial reconciliation
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Over thirty people – black and white, old and young – gathered at the Darlington Fire Department on December 15 to view a documentary on race relations in South Carolina, and to engage in open dialogue on the subjects of racism, civil rights, and the need to address these issues so the community can move forward united.
“A Seat at the Table: Pathways to Reconciliation” was produced by South Carolina Educational Television, and it features numerous interviews with people who have spent their lives seeking equality and trying to improve understanding between white and black citizens.
Following a screening of the film, attendees asked questions of assistant director – and longtime civil rights activist – Charles T. “Bud” Ferillo, who also produced the South Carolina rural schools documentary “Corridor of Shame.”
One guest wondered whether true progress could be achieved without first dispensing with the need to be polite, to be silent so the status quo is not disturbed and people remain comfortable. Ferillo said that perhaps discomfort is necessary for real understanding.
“Sympathy is just simply saying I’m sorry. Empathy means I share that pain. And that opens the door for the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation,” said Ferillo.
Guest Elaine Reed, who embraced Ferillo and spoke fondly of working with him decades ago, wondered whether the drive to win in political campaigns and social justice initiatives had inadvertently caused harm.
“(Causing harm) wasn’t in our minds. We wanted to win. I just wonder if, in some of our political tactics, we contributed to a racial divide,” said Reed.
Ferillo said that the mix of racial volunteers on many political campaigns in the 1980s has fallen away over the last 25 years, but that trend can be reversed.
“What you don’t do in the face of adversity is give up. That’s the message of the civil rights movement,” Ferillo said.
Bryant Gardner, newly elected council member, wondered whether Darlington’s lingering racial divide is one reason for the city’s youth drain, with many young people moving away and not returning. Gardner said that growing up, he didn’t fully understand the concept of racism until the integration of traditionally white St. John’s High School with traditionally black Mayo High School in 1995. He explained that his younger sister, age 22, did not have that firsthand experience of de facto segregation and, therefore, doesn’t cotton to the concept of judging people based on race.
“I think a lot of young people are growing up free from the prejudices of their past family histories,” Ferillo agreed, adding that many of his 19 year-old daughter’s friends are of differing races or sexualities. “These younger people are finished with prejudice of any kind… where the leadership is still trapped in the past.”
Pastor Cecil Bromell of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church lauded the discussion as a step in the right direction, adding that it was past time to deal with the race issue.
“We can kick something down the road and leave it for other people to deal with, but I think we’ve done enough kicking,” Bromell said. “It’s now time for us to have a real talk.”
Darlington City Manager Howard Garland arranged the film screening and discussion after attending a similar event last summer. Garland was invited by director/producer Betsy Newman to a showing of the film and a roundtable discussion in August at the SCETV studios in Columbia. He says he immediately thought a series of such open talks could help Darlington – a city with old race-related wounds that have yet to fully heal.
“I had the idea to bring the same kind of setup to Darlington, thinking that it would be of benefit to us, regardless of the outcome of the (November Mayoral and City Council) elections,” Garland says. “The idea is to continue these discussions, to have one every two months, where the people of Darlington can come together and talk openly.”